Poetry has, traditionally, served as an excellent way to remember things. The human brain just seems to better retain information that rhymes, and a rhythmic quality can bring the words to mind in an instant.
Lines that are intended to aid in memorization are called mnemonic verses, and we use them on a daily basis. Think of when you try to determine how many days are in a month: “Thirty days hath September…” Or when you consider how “neither” should be spelled: “I before E except after C…” Is that snake in your yard friend or foe? “Red on black, friend of Jack…”
There are even longer mnemonic verses for memorizing heftier material. For example, this witty little song for the history of the monarchy in England (sung to the tune of Good King Wenceslas):
Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee, Harry, Dick, John, Harry three; One, two, three Neds, Richard two Harrys four, five, six... then who? Edwards four, five, Dick the bad, Harrys twain and Ned the Lad; Mary, Bessie, James the Vain, Charlie, Charlie, James again... William and Mary, Anna Gloria, Four Georges, William and Victoria; Edward seven next, and then George the fifth in 1910; Ned the eighth soon abdicated Then George the sixth was coronated; After which Elizabeth And that's the end until her death.
- –Wikipedia, “Mnemonic verses of monarchs in England”
The little book from Special Collections that I’m sharing today is Marmaduke Multiply’s Merry Method of Making Minor Mathematicians of 1841. We have a facsimile of the work, which was a favorite among nineteenth-century schoolchildren for memorizing their numbers.
Originally published in 1816 and 1817, the book was largely popular in the UK, but it spread to the US toward the later half of the nineteenth century. The book has funny little woodcuts depicting various scenes and then a rhyming verse that helps the reader remember their times tables. Here are a few examples:
Some of the most beautiful woodcut work appears on the borders. Here is close up of the corner piece on that last one:
Finally, my favorite page shows a child holding a book just like the one the image appears in! It also mentions the bookshop that sold Marmaduke Multiply’s Merry Method of Making Minor Mathematicians, which happened to be financially linked to the publishing house that produced the book (talk about savvy marketing!):
What rhymes do you remember from childhood?